Rod Gilbert goes out onto the balcony of his apartment 33 floors above the streets of Manhattan's Upper East Side every night at 7 p.m. In the hands of the New York Rangers icon is an ash Sher-Wood PMP 5030 hockey stick, his name near the top of the shaft.
For a few seconds, Gilbert bangs his stick on the metal balcony railing. As he does, he calls out his thanks to New York's health care professionals and countless others who in a variety of ways are caring for the thousands in the grip of the coronavirus.
"I make the most noise of anyone in the building," Gilbert said Wednesday. "I'm tapping my stick as if I'm calling for a pass, which is exactly what I'm getting from all the people I'm thanking. They're all trying to help us get back to normal."
Gilbert's wife, Judy, recorded a 12-second Twitter video in late March of her husband stressing the need for people to remain at home during the pandemic. Standing on the East River promenade near their building, holding the same Sher-Wood stick, Gilbert reminds viewers that if they must go out, they should remain at least a stick length from the nearest person.
"That stick is my model," Gilbert joked. "I'd use it if I were still playing."
On their balcony this week, Judy recorded a second video, this one 10 seconds long, of Gilbert tapping his stick on the railing, calling out, "Thank you … thank you so much." It's already been viewed more than 145,000 times, liked by more than 3,000 and retweeted nearly 400 times.
"The Rangers retweeted me, and they have 1.4 million followers," Gilbert said. "If even a fraction of those people see it, that tweet will grow real quick. A guy who lives downstairs replied to it, saying, 'Keep the noise down, Rod, I'm trying to have a nap!'"
Perhaps it's not just the stick tap that his neighbor is responding to. While he's on the balcony, the 78-year-old plugs his phone into a Bluetooth speaker and cranks up the volume on Frank Sinatra's version of "New York, New York."
Rod Gilbert chases Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Carl Brewer behind a Madison Square Garden net, goalie Johnny Bower keeping guard.
"I blast it all over the place," he said. "In every building around us, people clap and make noise to show their gratitude to the first responders, doctors, nurses, health care people, police, cab drivers, the grocers and those who deliver for them.
"This a very difficult situation. I can't imagine having to go to the hospital every day and treat these people who are really sick. They're infected big time and the care people are going to go home after that, sometimes maybe not having had adequate protection."
Gilbert remains a hugely popular member of the Rangers family, having played all 1,065 of his NHL games for New York from 1960-61 through 1977-78. The Montreal native was the right wing on the Rangers' famed "GAG Line" centered by Jean Ratelle with Vic Hadfield on the left side.
Rod Gilbert (left) with Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield outside Madison Square Garden in 2018.
Gilbert finished his career with 1,021 points (406 goals, 615 assists) and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982. His No. 7 was retired by the Rangers in 1979, the first in team history to be so honored; Ratelle's No. 19 and Hadfield's No. 11 were raised to the Madison Square Garden rafters in separate 2018 ceremonies. He also was a key member of Canada during the 1972 Summit Series against a team from the Soviet Union.
The nightly stick-tap salute is just the tip of Gilbert's appreciation for those in his adopted city who are doing tremendous work in these extraordinary times. As president of the Rangers Alumni Association, he is deeply involved with a number of COVID-19 relief efforts to raise money for charity partners who are helping to feed those in need.
Among them is the "ALL IN Challenge," a global fundraiser that has the Rangers auctioning a number of items. The marquee prize will see the highest bidder put together a team to skate with and play against the 1994 Stanley Cup champions, with captain Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, Mike Richter, coach Mike Keenan and others scheduled to take part.
Rod Gilbert in a Rangers portrait and with Team Canada for the 1972 Summit Series.
Also up for bids will be a Rangers game for 16, experienced in a Garden suite, with hosts Gilbert, Leetch and others. That auction will begin soon.
"Mr. Ranger," a title that's catching on for Gilbert, soon will be included as a key figure in the Robin Hood Relief Fund, which benefits New York nonprofit organizations working on the front lines to assist the needy.
Tonight, and until further notice, Gilbert will be on his balcony at 7 p.m., his banging stick playing percussion for Sinatra's celebration of the city, a gesture of thanks to those who are deep in the battle against a horrible virus.
"It's got to be a tremendous stress and anxiety for them," Gilbert said. "There are many people who are risking their lives every day. All of us are grateful to them and we don't tell them that often enough."